Mayan language could disappear in 30 years, researcher warns

On International Mother Language Day, concerns that the native tongue isn't being passed down

The Maya language could disappear in 30 years, says a researcher in Yucatan. Photo: File
The Maya language could disappear in 30 years, says a researcher in Yucatan. Photo: File

Merida, Yucatan — One in three Yucatecans — about 575,700 people — speak Mayan. But Yucatan’s mother tongue is not often enough handed down to the next generation.

That puts the future of the Mayan language at risk, said Graciela Tec Chan, head of the Department of Language and Culture Maya from the Institute for the Development of Mayan Culture (Indemaya).

International Mother Language Day, on Thursday, Feb. 21, brings attention to at-risk languages around the world. It started in Bangladesh, where the Bangla language was defended, in 1999.

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In Yucatan, most Mayan speakers are in the south and east. But the language is not being transmitted generationally, said Tec Chan. In the capital city of Merida, just 10 percent speak Maya.

The Mayan language could disappear in 30 years, said Graciela Beatriz Quinteros Sciurano, a researcher at the Autonomous Metropolitan University (UAM) and academic coordinator of the Commission for the Creation of Programs of Study of the Indigenous Language of the Secretariat of Public Education.

While efforts to save the language are ongoing — today, school children will sing the national anthem in Maya, for example — Tec Chan laments a decline in Maya speakers. Still, a “strong” group still converse in Maya, he told La Jornada Maya, a local newspaper that regularly publishes in Maya.

“They do not know how important it is that they continue to speak Mayan,” he said. “We are more immersed and more aware, and we admit with pride when we know the language, we speak in public and in private. You need that in the municipalities.”

Maya speakers with limited Spanish need more interpreters in the areas of justice and health. “They do not say it but there is a need for them to be assisted in that area,” he concluded.

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Indemaya today and tomorrow will carry out a series of related activities in the Gran Museo del Mundo Maya.

The program includes the participation of academic institutions, government agencies, town halls and experts, with the aim of disseminating the Mayan language.

During the opening ceremony today, an official declaration of the recognition of the National Anthem to the Mayan Language will be made and distinctions will be given to promoters of Mayan culture.

Later, at 10:05 a.m., the conference, Institutionalization of the Mayan language, will be given by Fidencio Briceño Chel; at 11, the panel convenes: “Changes and Continuity of the Mayan language in the Rural and Urban Areas of Yucatan,” with Lázaro Tuz Chi, Jesus Lizama Quijano, Silvia Cristina Leirana Alcocer and Feliciano Sánchez Chan, with moderator Nidelvia Vela Cano. 

At 12:30, the panel “The Mayan Language and its Implications for Health Care, Justice and Access to Education” will begin with Miguel Güemez Pineda, Esteban Krotz, Julia María Chan Xicum and César Can Canul, acting as moderator Miguel May May, and at 1:35 p.m., the documentary “Ah Muzen Cab” will be screened.

For Friday, activities will begin at 9 a.m. with “The Mayan Language in the Media” with Sasil Sánchez Chan, Miriam Uitz May, Bernardo Caamal Itzá and José Enrique Poot Ortega, with moderator Maria del Socorro Cauich Caamal. In addition, the short film “X’wáay miis” will be screened. 

Source: La Jornada Maya

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